ATCEMS no longer disqualifying applicants for prior cannabis use — here’s why

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services has updated its hiring requirements to remove an “antiquated” disqualification for candidates who used cannabis products.

Previous department policy would disqualify any candidate who had used any form of cannabis — including hemp, legalized forms of THC and legalized medicinal uses — within the past three years. In late October, the department updated its standards to be more reflective of changes in legalized cannabis uses, said Selena Xie, president of the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Association.

The motivation behind the change came through a recent applicant who said he’d been removed as a candidate after disclosing he’d previously used THC while in a state where it was recreationally legal. Since, Xie said the department and city leaders collaborated to update the policy.

“Given that THC is recreationally and medicinally legal in over half the states, we’re really reducing the number of people that can even apply to work for us,” she said. “They still have to pass a drug screening, we still have randomized drug testing currently, and post-accident drug testing. So it hasn’t changed any of that.”

She said the policy change was particularly crucial given the department’s history of recruiting out-of-state cadets. Within Texas, Xie said the state has some competitive EMS programs; given their reliance on non-Texas applicants, she said application standards needed to adjust accordingly.

“The question is pretty antiquated at this point. It was really written when marijuana was, for the most part, illegal in most of the states across this country. And so as that’s changed, it’s time to reevaluate some of those practices.”

selena xie, president, austin-travis county emergency medical services association

While she said this is a step in the right direction for the department, she said recruitment is still an uphill battle. The coronavirus pandemic has substantially impacted the number of healthcare workers applying to and leaving the profession.

For this December’s ATCEMS cadet class, Xie said the department had a targeted class size of 30 cadets. Only 13 cadets will begin their training this winter — in part, Xie said, due to a combination of COVID-induced healthcare fatigue and these outdated disqualifiers.

Come 2022, applicants will no longer be disqualified for cannabis use within the past three years, she said. Xie added her hope is this expands ATCEMS’s candidate pool and bring high-quality workers into the department who might otherwise have been disqualified.

“The question is pretty antiquated at this point. It was really written when marijuana was, for the most part, illegal in most of the states across this country,” Xie said. “And so as that’s changed, it’s time to reevaluate some of those practices. And I’m really glad that [the department] did that.”

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